Mint (Mentha) for Virtue


In my mind, spring and mint just go together. We combine fresh spring peas with mint and Easter lamb with mint sauce. Derby Day is just another horse race without mint juleps. I love mint, in all varieties--spearmint, peppermint, chocolate mint, pineapple mint, citrus mint (bergamot), and more.

Mints are in the genus, Mentha, and in the family Lamiaceae (includes fragrant plants like rosemary, basil, thyme, lavender). Mints need moist soil, which is why they do so well in shady locations that don't dry out easily. They spread through runners, so you need to be careful where you plant them. Usually pots are best, as long as you can keep them well-watered. Apart from watering they're very easy to grow, and there's nothing quite as refreshing as adding a sprig of fresh-pinched mint to your water, tea or lemonade, not to mention salads and sauces.

You'll find mint in some of the recipes in my Spring Detox Cookbook. If you've never done the spring detox, you might want to buy it just for the cookbook if nothing else!

Back to mint! The name "Mint" or "menthas" comes from Greek mythology. Minthe, a nymphe, was the lover of Hades/Pluto, god of the underworld. When Pluto's wife found out, she reacted in a fit of rage and killed little Minthe. Pluto still loved her and was able to bring her back to life in a different form, as a fragrant plant. Other versions of the story say that Pluto's wife, Persephone turned Minthe into a plant so her husband could not have her. Either way, we end up with a fragrant end to a sad story of love, betrayal, and murder. (I guess the human condition has not changed much!)

When I think of mint, I typically think of peppermint, which means "peppery" or "spicy" from the Latin "piperita."  Aristotle spoke of it as an aphrodisiac, and Alexander the Great banned it from use by his armies because he believed (from experience?) that it caused erotic thoughts. Mint symbolized virtue in Victorian times, which is a little strange considering its use as an aphrodisiac.

One of my favorites is bergamot, or Mentha Citrata. Bergamot is an ingredient in Earl Grey Tea and is used in many perfumes. Recently, it has enjoyed renewed popularity and can be found in natural soaps and lotions. Bergamot is recommended by herbalists as good for depression, anxiety and even high blood pressure! It has a synergistic effect when combined with lavender and ylang ylang oils. One way to enjoy bergamot is to place a few drops on a tissue (use the other 2 oils too if you can) and place the tissue next to you at work. Pick it up whenever you're tense and about to yell at someone. Pretend to wipe you nose, but just breathe in the delightful, calming scent instead! It will help you keep your mouth shut. :)

Today, mints are found in teas and preparations to soothe stomach and intestinal problems, headaches, coughs, and colds. Peppermint tea is often recommended for students before taking an exam. The theory is that it improves concentration through its calming and anti-anxiety properties.  Research into mint's benefit as an aphrodisiac is ongoing, but there's no reason to wait for a study to prove or disprove it. Give it a try, if you dare!

Pennyroyal is one of the few mints that should not be ingested unless you're working with a qualified herbalist. The essential oil is used externally as a bug and mosquito repellant.

Mint makes a wonderful astringent and is nice in foot scrubs, bath salts and soaps. Add peppermint essential oil to plain bath sea salts for an uplifting and refreshing soak in the tub.


Grieve. A Modern Herbal (©1931)

Natural Standard: The Authority on Integrative Medicine.

The Herb Society. Mint, 2013.    

© Bobbi Mullins 2011, All rights reserved. FOOD FITNESS FAITH™